Category Archives: Two to Tango

Cover Reveal for Two to Tango

twototango_smFinally, it’s here! My M/M SF caper erotic romance (say that in one breath, I dare you) Two to Tango will be out from Evernight Publishing on June 12, and this week I’m going to be holding a contest and offering some nifty prizes!

• A $25 Amazon Gift Card
• A custom piece of jewelry from Belaurient Arts
• A grand prize package of all my ebooks, plus a sneak peak at the first three chapters of the second book in the Olympic Cove series, Breaker Zone.

The fun starts tomorrow — stay tuned!

Rory MacLellan, aka the Highlander, is one of the most successful interstellar art thieves in the Known Worlds. Dmitri Grigoryev was an up-and-coming exoarchaeologist until a deadly dig left his career in tatters. Thrown together by accident and with interstellar police on their tail, Rory and Dmitri reluctantly join forces for a major heist. But will their simmering attraction get in the way, or prove that they were meant to be together?

Excerpt

Dmitri turned over, glancing down the line of their bodies. Rory’s erection was very obvious in his kilt, almost comically so. The other man must have been contorting himself to keep it off his ass. Of course, now that he was face up, his own erection started filling out nicely.

Rory started massaging his shoulders and arms, going nowhere near his nipples or other erogenous zones. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore. “Um, you’re hard.”

“I know,” Rory said evenly. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Kind of difficult to do that when it’s right over my stomach. Besides, so am I.”

Rory gave a half shrug. “Totally normal. Lots of guys get an erection during a massage. Don’t worry, it’s not like I’m going to make a move on you or anything.”

He didn’t understand why that admission annoyed him, but it did. “Of course not,” he muttered. “Why would you?”

Rory stopped at that, frowning. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know.” He turned his head, staring at the bulkhead. “Never mind.”

“Hey.” Long fingers cupped his chin, urging it back. “I’m not making a move on you because I don’t believe in hitting on someone when they don’t have a way out of the situation. I mean, yes, I think you’re incredibly hot, which should be obvious by the fact that my cock can now cut diamond.” Rory glanced down at his crotch and grinned. “But that’s my problem, not yours.”

That’s what you think. Dmitri could feel Rory’s body heat moving through him, lighting up nerve endings. He’d been sure that his life would be one long, slow slog through museum workshops, getting older and more bitter with each passing year until he was shunted off to some sterile senior station to die.

Instead, he had been kidnapped during a heist by the Known Worlds’ sexiest antiquities thief, rescued from CAPOD by said thief, been given the chance to restore a shattered Saolao ceremonial bowl, and now had the same sexy thief kneeling over him with a rock-hard erection after giving him the best massage of his life. Except he’s backing off like I’m a nervous virgin.

It was time to take matters into his own hands, quite literally. He cupped his palms over Rory’s exposed knees, feeling the other man twitch from the unexpected contact. “What if I said yes?”

Rory frowned. “I’m sorry?”

“What.” Dmitri slowly ran his fingertips under the tartan, up Rory’s thighs. “If I.” He pressed the heels of his hands against the soft prickle of hair and the lean muscle underneath, continuing his upward slide. “Said yes?” His fingers reached the top of each thigh, dancing over the crease where leg met groin. The skin was smooth there, but he could just feel the beginnings of crisp pubic hair brushing his thumbs, and the heat from what had to be an aching cock.

He wouldn’t let himself touch it. Not until he was sure they both wanted this. “Or do I have to spell it out for you?”

“Nooo, I think I’m catching on.” Eyes gleaming, Rory leaned over and kissed him. “Is this all right?” he whispered, each word the softest puff of breath against Dmitri’s lips.

“Definitely.”

“Good. Because if you don’t put your hand around my cock in the next thirty seconds, my head is going to explode.”

Dmitri couldn’t help chuckling. “Well, we can’t have that, can we?”

I have a cover and release date for Two to Tango!

Two to Tango will be available from Evernight Publishing and other fine retailers of smut on June 12. I’m going to hold off a little and do a cover reveal this weekend, but in the meantime let me tease you with a couple of ads!

TtTRoryBlurb

 

TtTDmitriBlurbv2

Note to self

Must stop haunting the Evernight website to see how close Two to Tango is to the top of the Coming Soon list (it’s currently at number 3, by the way). The final edits have been turned in with a most appropriate dedication, I dare say, and I know Sour Cherry Designs are currently working on the cover, so I could have a cover and publication date any time now.

Checks inbox.

Yep, any time now. Aaaaaaany time now.

Have I mentioned how much I love ebook publication? It soothes the impatient 3-year-old in me.

Okay, on to other news — as of yesterday I hit the midway point on Breaker Zone (also had an almost 6K day, which was astounding), which means it’s all downhill from here. I really was hoping to have the MS done by tomorrow, but when you get handed not one but two sets of edits to be turned in within two weeks those get first dibs on your time. But it’s all okay because with any luck I’ll be typing The End in a week or so.

And that’s just fine with me because, Lord, Iron Cross is singing a siren song and I really, REALLY want to polish that baby off and 1) get it sent off to my betas, 2) clean it up, and 3) start the submission process to agents. I’ve got a really good feeling about this one, people.

Okay, that’s done

Just spent the last week doing edits for Two to Tango. I may have gotten a little…focused. Yeah, focused. Others may call it line editing, but whatever. Then again, the MS is almost 70K and has some serious subplots in addition to the smut, so making sure everything was clean as possible was important (and I caught a number of bloopers, so yeah, line editing for the win).

But it’s done, and turned back into Evernight, and now I can get back to work on Breaker Zone because that sucker is going to be done by Sunday if it kills me, kills me, kills me. I want to get started on Book Three, dammit!

Evernight’s Book Boyfriend Blog Hop! #bookboyfriend

bookboyfriend-1

The Book Boyfriend Blog Hop is back and better than ever!

The authors of Evernight have a brand new team of swoon-worthy book boyfriend candidates. A sexy assortment of cowboys, Doms, detectives, millionaires, royalty, vampires, soldiers, and shifters are just a click away.

Get ready to find your next book boyfriend…

trickster2_webHi there! I’m Nicola Cameron, and welcome to my website! Due to a missed communication on my part Evernight didn’t get the name of my chosen Book Boyfriend in time for the promotional material, so guess what? You get TWO Book Boyfriends for the price of one!

So, let’s talk about the romantic lead of my M/M paranormal erotic romance Trickster and my official Book Boyfriend, Delaney Smith. Tall, handsome, a coyote shifter and genius programmer, and currently CTO at Trickster Technologies, Delaney also dates shifters exclusively — humans are just a little too bland and boring for his tastes. Walking back into the office after vacation, he gets the shock of his life when he finally scents his mate.

Who just happens to be a male contract programmer hired by Trickster while Delaney was on vacation. The fact that Mark Fellowes is a man doesn’t bother Delaney. The fact that Mark is completely and undeniably human … and straight … and has a girlfriend … well, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

DelaneySmith01So yeah, their relationship starts out on a slightly rocky basis. And to prove it, here’s a teaser:


Delaney ended the call and tossed the phone on his bedside table. He understood the importance of finding out who was trying to hack into Trickster’s servers. But God, this was a shitty time to make him play Sherlock, especially with his mate as the target.

Leaving his bedroom, he headed to the guest room and knocked on the door. “Mark? Can I come in?”

There was no answer. He opened the door and peered inside. Mark’s open bag was on the bed, and the bathroom door was shut. Behind it, he could hear the sound of the shower.

His natural curiosity kicked into gear. Quietly, he slipped into the room and closed the door behind him, ignoring the faint flicker of guilt. Well, nosing around is what coyotes do, he reasoned. And Scott pretty much ordered me to check him out, so I’m just following my Alpha’s orders.

Mark’s bag turned out to hold nothing but a clean set of casual clothes, some underwear, and a dress shirt, suit, and tie. Delaney took a deep breath, savoring the warm, woody scent wafting up from the clothes. A powerfully attractive image of shucking off his clothes and joining his mate in the shower came to him. I could scrub him clean all over, yeah, then kneel down and rim him until he’s begging–

DelaneySmith02His enhanced hearing picked up a soft moan. He stepped to the bathroom door, listening. Another moan, almost muffled by the sound the falling water, and a familiar slicking sound.

Delaney went hot all over, and his cock sprang back to life. Oh, fuck. He’s jacking off. He’s four feet away and he’s jacking off. Fuck, that’s so not fair.

His hand drifted to the front of his slacks, massaging the thick ridge there as he listened to his mate pleasure himself. When Mark grunted hard and came, Delaney was almost right behind him. Gritting his teeth, he pulled his hand away, willing his heartbeat to slow down as the shower stopped.

The bathroom door opened and Mark stepped out, rubbing a towel over his hair. Another one was wrapped around his narrow hips, and Delaney wanted to take it off with his teeth.

He cleared his throat. Mark yelped and spun, bumping into the dresser next to the bed. The towel around his waist started to slip, and Delaney caught a glimpse of pale, muscled hip before Mark yanked the terrycloth back into place.

Panting, he glared at Delaney. “Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you?” he yelled. “Do you even know how to knock?”

“I did,” Delaney said, trying to sound innocent. “You didn’t answer so I got worried. Didn’t know you were in the shower until I came in here.” And you were coming in there.


Trickster can be purchased from the following retailers:

EvernightAmazonBarnes & NobleAll Romance EbooksBookstrandSmashwords

Now, what’s up for grabs in his blog hop?

  • One lucky hopper will win a $100 Amazon Gift Certificate sponsored by Evernight Publishing.
  • Plus, I’ll be giving away a goodie basket of books, chocolate, and custom jewelry from Belaurient Arts.

How to enter? Answer this question in the comments below…

Question: If you could be any kind of shifter, what kind would you be?

Be sure to leave the answer and your email address to be eligible to win a prize. Each comment gives you an entry for the grand prize (one per blog hop stop).

Keep hopping to the next author or blogger. After you’ve met each hero click here to vote for your favorite book boyfriend. You’ll earn an extra grand prize entry!

You’re one step closer to meeting your next Book Boyfriend…


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RoryMcCMy original boyfriend choice for the blog hop was the oh-so-sexy Scot Rory MacLellan, the romantic lead of my soon-to-be-published M/M SF erotic romance Two to Tango. Rory is a roguish intergalactic art thief who stumbles across suicidal archaeologist Dmitri Grigoryev during a heist and accidentally kidnaps/rescues him (it’s complicated). When the cops think Dmitri is Rory’s inside man on the heist, they have to go on the run together, and hijinks ensue!

I chose Rory as my Book Boyfriend because while he’s a thief, he also has a strong set of principles (as Dmitri quickly finds out). If you hurt someone Rory cares about, he’ll make damn sure you regret it. He’s also funny, quick-thinking, and empathetic despite a childhood that could best be described as “sterile.” Oh, did I mention he was a dyed-in-the-tartan romantic, too? You’ll understand what I mean when you get to the onboard dinner scene (who brings fine china and crystal into space, anyway? Someone who’s determined to woo a cranky archaeologist, that’s who).

I’m looking at a release date sometime in May, so stay tuned!

A little late for resolutions, but what the hey

mentangoingStarting today, I’m going to try and post something here everyday, because if y’all are checking in on a regular basis, I really owe it to you to get on my stick and give you something to read.

So, info nugget number one: after turning into the WIP That Would Not Die, Two to Tango is finished, polished, done de done done done, and off to Evernight as of a few hours ago. When I started the story, I thought it would top out at maybe 40K or so. Final word count was 66K. This is what happens when you decide to add not one but two batches of family drama as a subplot. It doesn’t help what when I was grousing to a writer buddy of mine about the fact that the damn story just kept growing, she tweeted to me:

(giggling & pointing) “First book of series, first book of series…you’re in for it now!”

I told her not to take it the wrong way, but I hated her. I already HAVE an ongoing series that I need to work on, plus people have been asking for a full-length A Boon by Moonlight sequel, PLUS the other erotic romance novels I want to do, plus the SF and urban fantasy novels I want to do. I actually have a list of 20 books already in my To Be Written/Finished queue (and yes, in case anyone’s interested, that includes the two Trickster sequels I have planned). That’s twenty full-length, 60-100K novels. To quote the hangman in Blazing Saddles, darling, I’m swamped.

I think a lot depends on 1) if it gets accepted, and 2) how well it does. There’s certainly more than enough material for additional books (in addition to the family drama, I created a nifty little device call the Puppet Wars that explains why nanite arrays and bioaugmentation was outlawed in this universe, and there’s a pissed off law enforcement officer who’s pretty much screaming for revenge). It’s up to Evernight now.

In the meantime, nugget two: now that TtT is off, I’m getting back to work on Breaker Zone and Behind the Iron Cross (I’m writing them in parallel because there’s so little crossover between the two I don’t have to worry about plot contamination). Have no idea when those will be done, and I’ve learned not to give ETAs — we’ll just have to see how fast I can get them finished. At least the nice thing about this delay is that I’ve solidified the characterization in BZ, which means I’m going to have to rewrite at least the first three chapters. But hell, if it’s good enough for Tiffany Reisz, it’s good enough for me.

So yeah, that’s where I stand this Monday night. Stay tuned!

Mid Week Tease: Two to Tango #MWTease

MidWeekTeaseHappy Hump Day! Let’s celebrate it with another wonderful Mid Week Tease, courtesy of the lovely and talented Sandra Bunino. This week, I’ll be sharing a turning point from my current WIP, a M/M SF erotic caper story titled Two to Tango.

Enjoy, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!

Rory Maclellan, aka the Highlander, is one of the most successful interstellar art thieves out there. He’s careful, professional, and plans his heists down to the microsecond. Surprisingly, he also has a conscience. So when he runs into a suicidal museum worker during his latest job, he has no choice but to stun the man and rescue him from certain death.

Dmitri Grigoryev was an up-and-coming exoarchaeologist until a disastrous dig left his career in tatters. Hungry, broke, and about to be laid off from the only job he’s been able to find in the last three years, he never expected a dashing thief to come along and ruin his suicide by saving his life.

With interstellar police on their tail, Rory and Dmitri reluctantly join forces for a major heist. But will their simmering attraction get in the way, or pull them even closer?

###

“You didn’t ruin my life, Mr. MacLellan,” Dmitri said quietly. “It was ruined well before I ever saw you. Would you like to know the real reason why I was trying to kill myself in the museum that night?”

The thief looked startled, then solemn. “If you’re okay with telling me that,” he said. “Then yes, I would.”

Dmitri nodded. “For the last three years, I’ve been scrimping and saving every credit I could get my hands on to get the P. Centauri III case reopened. It was the only way I could clear my name and get my career and life back. Three years of living in a rundown boarding house, wearing second-hand clothing and living on freeze-dried noodles and vat protein just past its sell-by date.” His mouth pursed. “And sometimes well past its sell-by date. All so that I could pay an investigator to find evidence that the van der Waals set me up, and a lawyer to bring my case in front of a civil judiciary panel.

“That finally happened about a week ago. I took two days off that I really couldn’t afford and went down to the Justice Center to testify against the van der Waals’ lawyer.” He smiled humorlessly. “They couldn’t even be bothered to show up themselves. Somehow, my investigator was able to get ahold of a partial audio recording from the site that was made just before the geyser blew. Everyone in the room heard my voice begging Helene to stop and get everyone out of the cavern. Both my lawyer and I thought it was open and shut case. We were wrong.”

Bitterness crept into his voice. “The day before the sterilization, they handed down the verdict. The original ruling of negligence was upheld. To add insult to injury, I was ordered to pay the van der Waals’ court costs. And then pissing on both insult and injury, I got to the museum and found out that I was fired. They claimed there was no record of my request for time off, and canned me for unapproved absences. I suspect that Helene spoke to someone on the board, who spoke to the director, et voila. And since I was fired, I wasn’t even eligible for unemployment chits.”

He turned one hand up, not so much a questioning gesture as one of resignation. “So there I was — unemployed, broke, with a huge legal bill hanging over my head, and no chance of ever going back to my old life. There was nothing else to do. Even if I went to work in a pleasure palace, I wouldn’t make enough to pay off the van der Waals’ bill for years. If I died in the museum, it would cause a scandal at the very least and embarrass that chickenshit bastard of a director.”

MacLellan had crossed his arms, face growing darker with each detail. “Those sons of bitches. Doc—”

“Dmitri.”

“Dmitri.” He took a deep breath. “I can get you the best legal eagle in the Known Worlds. I’ll make sure that warrant gets dropped, one way or another. You want your life back, I swear to God I’ll do my damnedest to make that happen.”

The anger and determination in the other man’s voice shocked him. “But — why?”

MacLellan bared a rictus grin. “Let’s just say I have very personal reasons to dislike people who abuse their wealth and power. Trust me, nailing that pair to the wall for you would be a pleasure.”

Dmitri stared at the man opposite him. What he proposed would not only be hideously expensive, but personally dangerous. “Those are the kindest words I’ve heard in three years,” he said slowly. “But no. I don’t want you to run that kind of risk. They’re not worth it.”

“Not — they ruined your life, man!”

“True. And then you saved it. Not only that, you gave me something I desperately needed.”

MacLellan frowned. “Which was?”

“The knowledge that things can change, even when you least expect it. You gave me a sense of hope.”


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Mid Week Tease: Two to Tango #MWTease

MidWeekTeaseHappy Hump Day! Let’s celebrate it with another wonderful Mid Week Tease, courtesy of the lovely and talented Sandra Bunino. I’m still doing teasers for Two to Tango, but this week we’re going to feature a not-so-hot scene after Rory makes two very big mistakes, only one of which is breaking into a sociopathic Russian mafia member’s home.

Enjoy, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!

Rory MacLellan, aka the Highlander, is one of the most successful interstellar art thieves out there. He’s careful, professional, and plans his heists down to the microsecond. Surprisingly, he also has a conscience. So when he runs into a suicidal museum worker during his latest job, he has no choice but to stun the man and rescue him from certain death.

Dmitri Grigoryev was an up-and-coming exoarchaeologist until a disastrous dig left his career in tatters. Hungry, broke, and about to be laid off from the only job he’s been able to find in the last three years, he never expected a dashing thief to come along and ruin his suicide by saving his life.

With interstellar police on their tail, Rory and Dmitri reluctantly join forces for a major heist. But will their simmering attraction get in the way, or pull them even closer?

###

The world slowly reformed around Rory, brightening from black to a murky grey. He blinked, trying to lick his lips, and winced from the sudden pain that blazed in his jaw. “Ow.”

“Welcome back, Mr. MacLellan.”

Neck creaking, he looked up. A statuesque woman with silver hair swept up in an elegant coif stood in front of him, her dark blue evening gown quite out of place against the plain cinderblock walls. “I’d expected you to be awake by now. I was starting to wonder if Drou has lost his touch.”

She glanced at a huge mountain of a man who stood to her left. He glared at Rory, one hand dropping to the shockrod attached to his belt. “But now that you’re awake, we can get started,” she added.

Rory forced his brain into gear. He was strapped to a chair in a smallish rectangular room that looked like it was somewhere in the mansion’s basement, judging from the damp chill in the air and the block wall construction. More concerning were the tools, both surgical and construction, that hung neatly on wall racks, and the metal rolling tray loaded with unpleasantly sharp shapes. A series of surgical lamps were suspended overhead, and the floor was plain concrete with, yes, a drain in it.

The downward glance confirmed he was naked. Oh, fuck me with a mass driver. This is gonna get ugly.

He cleared his throat, forcing a smile despite the shards of agony it caused. “Madame Grishov, I presume?”

Her head tilted. “Indeed. You can imagine my surprise, Mr. MacLellan, when I was informed by my house AI that someone had penetrated the defenses. Most thieves are smart enough to avoid my home, unless they’re suicidal or truly stupid. And from what I understand of your reputation, you are neither.”

Rory tried to dredge up some charm. “You flatter me, madame. It’s a shame you had to leave the ballet early — I wasn’t counting on that.”

“Yes, neither was I. Especially as it’s been a rather busy week and I was very much looking forward to the performance.” Madame Grishov removed her black satin gloves, revealing hands peppered by age spots but with obvious strength in them. She handed the gloves to Drou, who handed back a pair in black leather. “So I’m afraid you’re going to have to entertain me tonight, Mr. MacLellan.”

As she pulled on the new gloves, Rory could see the flat lead pads sewn into the palms, and the blunted chrome studs mounted over each knuckle. He fought to hold onto his smile. “You know, this really isn’t necessary,” he said quickly. “I’m fully aware I invaded your privacy, and I need to pay for that — let’s say, 100,000 credits? I’m sure we could reach a satisfactory amount if we put our minds to it.”

That earned him a faint, wintry smile. “I’m sure we could,” she said calmly. “But where’s the fun in that?”

Her arm went up and back. He had just enough time to brace himself before she backhanded him. Pain exploded through his face, and he swallowed a shout.

An openhanded slap on the other cheek violently rocked his head to the other side, the small lead plates in the glove lending agonizing power to the blow. Blood filled his mouth from where his teeth had gashed into tender flesh. Grimacing, he swallowed what he could, and let the rest of it drool onto his chin. Maybe if she sees blood, she’ll be happy.

Her eyes lit up at the sight. Oh, shit. Wrong kind of happy.

“Would it help if I said I was sorry?” he managed.

“Not really. I already know you’re sorry.” She gripped his chin hard, forcing his face up. “But I do admit to some curiosity. Obviously you were here to steal the Lady of Kazan, since we found the duplicate in your carryall.” Her grip tightened, and for a moment he wondered if she was going to break his jaw. “But it isn’t nearly as valuable as other items in my collection, items that would be much easier for a thief to carry. So I have to wonder why you went to all the trouble of breaking into my home and risking an extremely prolonged and creative death in order to steal that particular ikon.”


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Yes, this may be self-indulgent

But considering how Two to Tango got inspired in the first place, this section is staying in the book:

Dmitri swallowed, staring at his father. “I didn’t think you’d let me come back. And even if you did, I couldn’t do what … you wanted me to do.”

Eyes flickered away from him. “I wouldn’t have asked you to. Fyodor took your place. He’s everything I ever wanted.”

The old pain washed over him, still stinging after all these years. “In a son.”

“In an heir. You are still my son, but you would have made a terrible boss. You’re too tender, too kind for your own good.” A chuffed laugh. “This is what happens when you let a crazy intellectual be your child’s godfather.”

Dmitri dredged up a smile. “Uncle Misha was a good man.”

“He was a crackpot, with all his acts of kindness and those ridiculous hunts of his. If he hadn’t been your mother’s favorite brother, I never would have let him in the house.”

Mid Week Tease: Two to Tango #MWTease #MidWeekTease

MidWeekTeaseHappy Hump Day! Let’s celebrate it with another wonderful Mid Week Tease, courtesy of the lovely and talented Sandra Bunino. This week, I’ll be sharing a teaser from my current WIP, a M/M SF erotic caper story titled Two to Tango. I’m also doing something a little different this week, in that this isn’t an explicitly erotic tease — you actually get to see Rory in action, and how he met Dmitri.

Enjoy, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!

Rory MacLellan, aka the Highlander, is one of the most successful interstellar art thieves out there. He’s careful, professional, and plans his heists down to the microsecond. So when he runs into a suicidal museum worker during his latest job, he has no choice but to stun the man and rescue him from certain death, because he’ll be damned if he gets blamed for the man’s murder.

Dmitri Grigoryev was an up-and-coming exoarchaeologist until a disastrous dig left his career in tatters. Hungry, broke, and about to be laid off from the only job he’s been able to find in the last three years, he never expected a dashing thief to come along and ruin his suicide by saving his life.

With interstellar police on their tail, Rory and Dmitri reluctantly join forces for a major heist. But will their simmering attraction get in the way, or pull them even closer?

###

Rory MacLellan loved this part of a heist.

Grinning, he slipped down the darkened access hallway towards the target. The worn industrial carpet deadened the sound of his footsteps, not that there was anyone around to hear them tonight.

Not unless they really wanted to die.

He checked his heads up display, noting the time. Less than twenty minutes before airtight bulkhead doors would slam down throughout the Novy Vladivostok Museum of Art and History. The atmosphere would then be sucked out of the entire building, replaced with a sterilizing gas designed to kill vermin and artifact-destroying bacteria. The fact that the gas would also kill any humans still in the building guaranteed that the museum would be empty.

As far as he was concerned, the museum higher-ups couldn’t have picked a better time to do their yearly sterilization sweep. Their new exhibit Other Worlds, Other Gods was scheduled to go on display tomorrow, and its star attraction, a fist-sized chunk of pure opal known as the Eye of the Mother, was tonight’s prize.

He’d already done the tricky part; bribing underpaid planetary border agents for access, parking his cloaked skimship on the roof of the museum, and using a worm app to open a hole in museum security. The actual break-in activities were much simpler. A mimetic bodysuit and helmet took on the pattern of whatever was behind him and diverted body heat to sinks in the boot soles, rendering him effectively invisible to both standard and infrared cameras. His faceplate, doubling as a heads up display, turned the shadowy hallway into a brightly lit corridor. All the tools he’d need for safecracking and related activities were securely stored in a mimetic bag on his hip.

Now he just had to get to the museum’s workroom, pick its electronic lock, break into the safe there, retrieve the Eye of the Mother, and get out before sterilization commenced. Easy.

Still grinning, he reached the workroom door and pulled out a small black cylinder with a rubbery grey end from his bag. Pushing the rubbery bit against the lock, he waited until the smartgel sussed out the electronic code. A loud click sounded and he eased open the door, sliding through the gap into the workroom. A sudden flash of light made him wince. His faceplate cut in, compensating for the unexpected glow from a workstation lamp.

Rory tsked. Wasting energy was just sloppy. “Molly, room schematic,” he sub-vocalized.

“Coming up, sir.” The HUD now showed a graphic overlay of the workroom, and a glowing red outline in the far left corner indicated the safe. “May I remind you that you have eighteen minutes to complete your retrieval before sterilization commences.”

“Yup, I know.” The countdown in the lower left corner of the HUD was impossible to ignore.

“Your bodysuit will protect you from the gas, but all exits will automatically seal and I will not be able to re-open the roof hatch.”

“I know.”

“You’ll be a sitting duck when museum security returns in the morn—“

“Molly. Stop telling me what can go wrong.”

A beat of blessed silence. “Sorry, sir.”

Rory rolled his eyes. His ship AI was the finest in the business and the closest thing he had to a best friend, but sometimes she really chapped his nads. “Moving to the safe now.”

#

Dr. Dmitri Grigoryev sat at his workstation, ignoring his headache and the painful growl in his midsection. He’d hoped that some of his coworkers had left some food in the employee lounge. Even a sealie of chips or a stale sandwich would have been nice. But they’d cleared everything out in advance of the sterilization.

So he would die hungry. At least it’ll only be for a little while longer. After that, it’s up to God. Assuming that whatever deity there was, if there was one, took pity on someone like him.

He went over the workstation again, tidying the tools, putting everything in its place. There wasn’t much to do, really, but he was a stickler about keeping his personal spaces neat. He’d already cleaned out his locker, and his suicide note was logged in the system to be delivered to the museum director at six AM, long after the sterilizing gas had done its job.

There would be an investigation into how he’d gotten into the building, of course. Security had already done their pre-sterilization sweep, and the place was supposed to be locked down tight to guard against any accidental deaths. Fortunately for him, one of the friendlier security guards had showed him how to get around the entry codes a few months after he’d started. “Tired of having to come rescue you folks when you lock yourselves out,” he’d said, giving Dmitri the bypass instructions.

Of course, he’d wanted a little something in return. And ignoring the roiling self-disgust in his belly, Dmitri had gone along with it. Compared to three years ago, a quick fuck in the loading dock was nothing. At least the guard had fed him, too. He sometimes thought it was a shame the guard had gotten married soon afterwards and left the museum. If nothing else, he could have used the free food.

Absently, he wondered if anyone else should be notified about his death. His family … no. And he had no real friends. He toyed with the idea of sending a copy of his note to Joss and Helene, but finally decided against it. If they still remembered him after three years, they’d probably feel relieved that he was dead. And the last thing he wanted them to feel was relief.

Something wet trickled down his face. It took him a moment to realize he was crying. He felt numb inside, so why would he be crying? It didn’t make sense. He swiped a sleeve across his eyes, the cheap fabric of his coveralls smearing the water more than absorbing it. His stomach rumbled again painfully, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since the day before. What was it? A biscuit? It didn’t matter. A few more minutes, and he wouldn’t have to worry about anything anymore.

He took a deep breath, trying to imagine what it would feel like when the searing gas entered his lungs. Would it feel like drowning, or breathing fire? And how long would it take for him to die? He was so wrapped up in his oncoming death, he almost ignored the soft noise behind him.

Then he heard a second sound, a metallic ka-clink.

Turning in his chair, he stared at the cheap room dividers that separated the workstations from the larger cleaning zones and the workroom vault, a sizable walk-in space located in the far corner. Normally the vault was used to store rare items that were undergoing restoration or pieces that were being prepared for display.

Wasn’t something going on display tomorrow? The Eye of something? He’d caught a glimpse of it over the shoulder of his manager that very morning, a fist-sized chunk of carved black opal from some planet on the outer Rim.

Frowning, he stood and went over to the room dividers, peering around the edge. The cleaning zones were fairly dim, and his night vision was nonexistent thanks to the lamp on his workstation. But he could still see the vault door. It was closed.

Idiot. He’d been imagining things, illusions most likely brought on by hunger and lightheadedness. He turned to go back to his workstation.

Then turned back. There, against the far wall, something moved. A vague outline, almost like a heat haze on a hot day.

A man-shaped outline.

A burst of anger-fueled adrenaline surged through him. He remembered the security lectures from his first days there, how modern art thieves used mimetic technology to break into buildings and remove artifacts. Of course a thief would pick the time right before sterilization to steal something.

You greedy bastard. You couldn’t just let me die in peace, could you? A giddy sense of outrage joined the adrenaline, and he clenched his fists. Fine.

If he was going to die in that miserable place, at least he could take a thieving honor guard with him.


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